Milking Cows with a Pipeline

| 12/27/2016 10:03:00 AM

Tags: home dairying, milk, dairy cows, hand milking, food safety, raising livestock, Steve Judge, Vermont,

I have been looking forward to writing this blog post for sometime now. Times are changing in the dairy industry in the U.S. On one hand, we are witnessing the rapid consolidation of commodity dairy farms as they struggle to expand and take advantage of the economies of scale in the face of record low milk prices. Traditional family dairy farms are disappearing all across the country and are being replaced by large, industrialized dairy farms milking thousands of cows.

Resurgence of Small Dairy Farms

However, on the other hand, we are seeing unprecedented growth of small farms on less than 50 acres of land grossing less than $50,000 per year. The number of these small farms in the U.S. has been growing since 1982, according to the USDA Agricultural census. Many of these new small farms are selling their milk and dairy products directly to their customers for prices that dwarf commodity milk prices: $90 per hundred weight compared to $15 per hundred weight.

These small dairy farms are changing the rules of the game. Fifty years ago, when I was milking cows on a 40-cow Jersey farm in eastern Massachusetts, the name of the game was frugality. Spending money on time or labor saving devices was generally considered to be wasteful. Farmers were taught that their labor didn’t have any monetary value and they were encouraged to spend their time freely instead of their money. It was considered wise to spend a couple of hours fixing something worth $1.00.

For example, we milked with bucket milkers on the farm I worked at and shoveled the gutter by hand into a manure spreader every day, rain or shine snow or sleet. The hay baler didn’t have a kicker and we didn’t use hay wagons. Instead, the baler dropped the bales on the ground and we followed behind picking them up and tossing them up onto an old flatbed International truck. I remember it well, because the windshield was spilt and we could crank open both sides for a breeze. We also loaded and stacked thousands of hay bales in the hot barn haymows by hand without hay elevators. I worked for a $1 per hour and during the summer my weekly paychecks were routinely over $70.

Today “time is money and money is time." Farmers now commonly spend money on labor saving devices and they are encouraged to minimize their labor expenses. According to the USDA’s Cheap Food Policy, human workers are expensive and needlessly increase the cost of the food supply in the U.S.

Crowd at Seven Springs MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR


Sept. 15-17, 2017
Seven Springs, PA.

With more than 150 workshops, there is no shortage of informative demonstrations and lectures to educate and entertain you over the weekend.